Continental Airlines (NYSE: CAL) today is demonstrating the use of sustainable biofuel to power a commercial aircraft for the first time ever in North America. The demonstration flight -- which is being conducted in partnership with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM International, and Honeywell's UOP - marks the first sustainable biofuel demonstration flight by a commercial carrier using a two-engine aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 equipped with CFM International CFM56-7B engines.
"This demonstration flight represents another step in Continental's ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner. "The technical knowledge we gain today will contribute to a wider understanding of the future for transportation fuels."
The biofuel blend includes components derived from algae and jatropha plants, both sustainable, second-generation sources that do not impact food crops or water resources or contribute to deforestation. The algae oil has been provided by Sapphire Energy, and the jatropha oil by Terasol Energy. This is the first time a commercial carrier will power a flight using fuel derived in part from algae.
Continental's Boeing 737-800, tail number 516, will depart from and return to Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport operating under a specially-issued "Experimental" aircraft type certificate, and will carry no passengers.
During the flight, which will last approximately two hours, Continental test pilots will engage the aircraft in a number of normal and non-normal flight maneuvers, such as mid-flight engine shutdown and re-start, and power accelerations and decelerations. A Continental engineer will record flight data onboard.
The flight will operate with a biofuel blend, which consists of 50 percent biologically-derived fuel and 50 percent traditional jet fuel, in the No. 2 engine. This biofuel blend will result in a significant net decrease in carbon emissions relative to traditional jet fuel, as both jatropha and algae consume carbon during their lifecycles.
The aircraft's No. 1 engine will operate on 100 percent traditional jet fuel, allowing Continental to compare performance between the biofuel blend and traditional fuel. As Continental has worked with Boeing, GE Aviation/CFM and UOP for more than nine months to carefully evaluate and test the biofuel in engines on the ground, no difference in performance is expected.
The biofuel is a "drop-in" fuel, and no modifications to the aircraft or engine are necessary for the flight to operate. The biofuel meets and exceeds specifications necessary for jet fuel, including a flash point and a freezing point appropriate for use in aircraft.
Following the flight, Continental will participate with its partners in post-flight engine analysis to ensure that the effect on the engine and aircraft, in addition to performance, is substantively no different between biofuel and traditional fuel.
"Through their leadership Continental Airlines is helping aviation pioneer a greener, more diverse fuel supply for the future," said Billy Glover, managing director, Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Having a broader, more sustainable fuel portfolio is vital to our industry and demonstrating the viability of these renewable fuels addresses that goal, while potentially helping to further reduce environmental impacts."
"UOP's goal with renewable technology is to produce real fuels that perform as well as or better than their petroleum-based alternatives and that leverage the existing fuel infrastructure and fleet technology to lower capital costs and simplify adoption," said General Manager of UOP Renewable Energy and Chemicals Jennifer Holmgren. "With our proven technology and the commitment of aviation leaders like Continental and Boeing, sustainable biofuels for aviation are a real near-term option. We believe that production levels could reach hundreds of millions of gallons per year by 2012."
"We still have a lot of work to do in terms testing various biofuels but we are very pleased with, and encouraged by, the results we have achieved to date," said Eric Bachelet, president and CEO of CFM International. "What we have found is that the second generation fuel being tested today comes closer to simulating the characteristics of traditional jet fuel in terms of engine performance and operability, such as fuel consumption, engine start and other parameters. We have also found that engines running this mix emit less smoke even than those fueled by traditional jet fuel."
"The simple combination of sunlight, CO2 and algae to produce a carbon-neutral, renewable fuel source has the potential to profoundly change the petrochemical landscape forever," said Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy CEO. "Today's flight puts us one step closer to moving away from fossil fuels and energy dependency, and with no impact on the transportation infrastructure, food sources or the environment."
"We are excited to be pioneering the development of bio-based jet fuels along with Continental Airlines," said Sanjay Pingle, president, Terasol Energy. "Jatropha is one of several next generation fuel sources that we are working on in order to develop sustainable, scalable and renewable alternatives to petroleum-based products."
Continental has a company-wide commitment to environmental responsibility. On average, Continental burns approximately 18 gallons of fuel to fly one mainline revenue passenger 1,000 miles, which represents a 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption since 1997. This is due in large part to the efforts of its employees in streamlining operational procedures and to an investment of more than $12 billion to acquire 270 fuel-efficient Boeing aircraft and related equipment. Continental remains committed to further improving fuel efficiency in the decade to come, including investing in its fleet with orders for more than 50 Boeing 737-900 Next Generation aircraft, and 25 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Continental has also reduced, by 75 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions from ground equipment at the carrier's largest hub in Houston through switching to electric ground service equipment and other new technology. This technology is now being tested for use in cold climates.
Through these investments and other projects, including the construction of airport facilities in an environmentally responsible manner, the testing of alternative fuels in ground service equipment, offering a credible carbon offsetting program based on the actual fuel burn of the Continental fleet, and an expansive recycling program, Continental will continue to manage the environmental impact of its business.
Continental Airlines is the world's fifth largest airline. Continental, together with Continental Express and Continental Connection, has more than 2,500 daily departures throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, serving 134 domestic and 131 international destinations. More than 675 additional points are served via alliance partners. With more than 43,000 employees, Continental has hubs serving New York, Houston, Cleveland and Guam, and together with Continental Express, carries approximately 69 million passengers per year.
Continental consistently earns awards and critical acclaim for both its operation and its corporate culture. For the fifth consecutive year, FORTUNE magazine named Continental the No. 1 World's Most Admired Airline on its 2008 list of World's Most Admired Companies. For more company information, go to continental.com.
Continental Airlines Corporate Communications, + 1-713-324-5080,
Terrance Scott, Boeing Environmental Communications, +1-206-571-8070,
Rick Kennedy, GE Aviation, +1-513-607-0609 or +1-513-243-3372,
Jamie Jewell, CFM International +1-513-552-2790 or +1-513-885-2282,
Susan Gross, UOP Communications, +1-847-391-2380,
Tim Zenk, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Sapphire Energy, +1-858-530-3653,
Amanda Pinto, Terasol Energy, 1+ 646-706-7065,